Linear progression seems to be the preferred approach of many coaches when it comes to making beginners stronger. This method was popularized over the last 4-5 years by the strength author Mark Rippetoe and his best selling book Starting Strength. Question is, is linear progression that good for beginners?
1.The Good Side
The good side of linear progression is that it’s simple and works, to a certain point. When you are a beginner who can barely squat the bar or deadlift 135 lbs – 62 kg, you don’t need fancy programming and periodization. You are still far away from your genetic potential and the weights you are lifting are not hard to recover from. That’s why there’s no need for deload phases and other advanced techniques. At that point just constantly adding weight to the bar seems to the trick just fine.
2.The Bad Side
The bad side of linear progression is that it’s not for every body and many people won’t be able to handle it. Of course, in the beginning you are lifting light weights but once you are a little stronger the frequent heavy exercising fatigues the body and the central nervous system (CNS).
If you are always adding weight to your squat or whatever, you are never allowing the body to recover properly. On regular basis people push their linear progressions way too far because they want to get real strong real fast and usually have set some kind of a vanity goal such as 315 squat, 225 lbs bench press or 405 deadlift. A couple of plates on each side look nice but your body does not care about that.
3.The Happy Middle Ground
Linear progression is a good tool to use with beginners but it should be kept only for a short period of time and stopped shortly after a moderate weight is reached. Strength training is a marathon, not a spring and the fact that someone ends his/hers linear progression at 225 lbs squat while another person is able to reach more by pushing it to the limit is irrelevant over the course of a training career. It does not matter at all, because you won’t be breaking any records anyway and you’ll be experiencing unneeded stress and frustration.
What’s going to make you real strong in the long term is periodization anyway. If becoming super strong was as simple as adding weight to the bar every time you go to the gym, people would be deadlifting tons. Where are those people? That’s why the middle ground is still the happy place – a little bit of linear progression is perfectly fine, but expecting to become super strong through it is just not serious.
It’s been proven already by many strong people that cycling your weights is what helps you get stronger because the so-called deload phases allow your joints and connective tissues to recover. Don’t be afraid to cut your linear progression short and start more advanced training cycles – in the long term it does not matter one bit.